Table of Contents

First, a note.

I’ve solved the biggest question of this – and every – college football season in Florida – just in time for the end of the first week of the season: Who is the State of Florida’s college football team?

Most people would want to take a poll of people to see what they think. I understand why college football diehards would like to get the data this way – but I don’t think it’s really a fair way to determine the State’s – or Okaloosa County’s – favorite college football team. 

Based on the research I did on… wait for it… license plates, I can tell you two things: 

1 – The Florida Gators are, without a doubt, the State’s favorite football team. 

2 – But Niceville and Okaloosa County are Florida State Seminole Country. 

Just a note for the haters: I, the author, am a Texas Boy with a degree from Florida State. This isn’t a vast conspiracy by Gator Nation – these are just the facts. My only agenda is to make dope maps with fascinating facts. 

If you are a self-loathing masochist, you can take a look at the full data set, compiled by Mid Bay News, here.

Photo evidence of my Seminole bias. I have overcome a lot of internal strife to bring you this factual reporting.

How we determined Florida's favorite college football team.

Miami and Central Florida dominate the areas around their campuses. After all, many people will stay in a large metro area after college, because that is where they have the best shot to find an in with other alumni. Additionally, many of the people who are likely to support a local college football team see convenience to travel to the games as a big factor. With UCF and Miami - many people choose to support those teams because they are local and represent a sense of pride for those schools. The Panhandle is a stronghold for the Florida State Seminoles partially because of the longer communte to other schools in the state.

The State Department of Motor Vehicles has a pretty extensive vanity plate selection that people can choose from. For a $25 yearly fee, you can pick out a plate for your sorority, favorite outdoor activity, pro or college football team.

So, I figured this would be a great way to figure out how many people love a college sports team enough to put their money where their mouths are.

In total, almost 93,000 drivers in Florida have a Florida Gator license plate. Roughly 69,000 have a Florida State Seminoles plate. Interestingly, Miami and UCF have approximately the same amount of plates to their names (about 30,000 a piece). Other schools like USF or West Florida have plates as well – but they don’t have a majority of plates in a single county to their name, which brings me to my next point.

For me to add a team to this ‘competition,’ the license plate had to be the most popular in at least one county in Florida. As you might have guessed, Florida has the most counties in which the most popular collegiate plate is a Gator’s. The Gator license plate is most popular for 41 counties. Florida State is the second-most prevalent, with 20 counties where it is the majority plate. UCF and Miami have geographic strongholds around their campuses. Central Florida has Orange, Osceola, and Seminole Counties. Miami has Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Broward Counties.

So the Gators can celebrate their statewide popularity.

Schools 'Territories'

It’s clear who’s king in Okaloosa County: Florida State has more than half of the total number of plates from the four schools we researched. In total, they have 1,174 license plates to Florida’s 855. Miami (109) and UCF (121) aren’t close.

The Florida Gators do have statewide popularity. However, UF, along with the other three schools we mapped, have distinct home bases around their campuses in Tallhasssee, Gainesville, Orlando, and Miami. Here’s a look at the different schools and what territory they can ‘claim’ as their own.

The University of Florida's License Plate Popularity

The University of Florida has a heartland in the plains area of North Florida. However, the true strength of the team's fanbase is the fact that it finishes first or a strong second in most of the metropolitan areas around the state. This means the team has truly statewide appeal.

Florida, again, has truly statewide appeal. They have the same number of Heisman Trophy Winners and National Championships (three each) as Florida State – but that SEC TV money does a program well.

Florida is the most dominant school in two of the State’s four biggest metropolitan areas – Jacksonville and Tampa. Orlando (UCF) and Miami carry the other two metro areas.

It should be noted that because of the long head start Florida State and Florida have on most of the other schools in the state (especially public schools), they were bound to be the only two contestants for statewide popularity. Most of the other public schools in the state with division one college football teams; South Florida, Central Florida, Florida International, and Florida Atlantic were founded more than 100 years after the two biggest names in Florida football. 

Gainesville is a shorter drive from Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Miami – which means it’s more convenient to go to a Gators game for roughly 90% of the population in the state. That may also have something to do with the reason Florida is more popular statewide than Florida State. After all, both teams have the same number of national championships, and Heisman Trophy winners. 

Florida State's Map of License Plate Popularity.

It’s clear who’s king in Okaloosa County: Florida State has more than half of the total number of plates from the four schools we researched. In total, they have 1,174 license plates to Florida’s 855. Miami (109) and UCF (121) aren’t close.

The Florida Gators do have statewide popularity. However, UF, along with the other three schools we mapped, have distinct home bases around their campuses in Tallhasssee, Gainesville, Orlando, and Miami. Here’s a look at the different schools and what territory they can ‘claim’ as their own.

Florida State has a strong grip on the panhandle on the state. It should be noted, though that the southwestern portion of the state also has decent support for the Seminoles. Finally, many Florida State alumni move to the Jacksonville area, which means they have a stronger-than expected presence in the northeastern portion of the state.

Florida State has the most popularity in two distinct regions: the Panhandle of Florida and the heart of the Everglades in south-central Florida.

Florida State’s dominance extends from Pensacola in the East to Jefferson County in the East – about halfway between UF and FSU. But Alabama and Auburn are more than likely going to get their own vanity plates soon. Should they be able to do so, I think it may cleave off Escambia, Santa Rosa, Holmes, Calhoun, and Jackson Counties and give them to Alabama.

While almost all of the counties in Florida State’s orbit are in the Panhandle west of The Busy Bee – there are two counties, Hardee and Hendry, that ‘randomly’ have a slight majority of Florida State license plates. I think we have to go to history to get an answer on why this is. At the end of the Seminole Wars between the Seminole Tribes and the US government – the last remaining Seminoles hunkered down in the Everglades rather than surrender to the US Government. Those last warriors, between 50-200 of them, never surrendered. That hideout, deep in the Everglades, is the current location of Hardee and Hendry Counties. My guess, without conducting a study, is that the people who live in those lightly-populated counties are either descendants of the Seminoles who fled there – or are proud of the fact that the area in which they live was home to the last Seminole warriors.

Florida State’s fanbase is held back because they are not near a large metropolitan area. Tallahassee pales in size to Miami, Orlando, Tampa or Jacksonville. Gainesville isn’t large, either – but it does have the proximity of the location to Tampa and Jacksonville. Short of picking up the campus and moving it to one of those big cities – Florida State will suffer from a lack of broad popular support throughout the State.

The University of Miami's Map of License Plate Popularity.

"You want to drive six hours to watch UCF play Texas?" -No one from Miami.

You won’t be surprised to know that the ‘State of Miami’ continues to exist in South Florida – despite almost two decades of struggle for the Miami Hurricane Football Team. The locals in the area support the school vehemently. The local support from people who didn’t go to college at Miami is necessary – Miami has only 12,000 current undergraduate students, compared to Florida State’s 44,000 and Florida’s 55,000.

They are spread throughout the State but have the most dominance in the north-central portions of the State. While there are a third of counties in which the UF plate isn’t the most popular, it makes a strong showing in those counties as well – leading me to believe that the Florida Gators are the only team with true statewide appeal.

The University of Central Florida's Map of License Plate Popularity.

UCF’s map is pretty straightforward. Many people who graduate from UCF and decide to stick around the Orlando Area get UCF License plates. Orange, Osceola, and Seminole Counties have a majority of UCF plates. The university was founded in Orlando in the 1960s to train engineers for NASA and other science-based programs in the Florida Area, and that is what many of those graduates do. UCF has large proportions of the license plates, though not the majority, in Volusia, Brevard, and other central east coast counties – which host NASA and several Air Force Bases. 

The farther you go from UCF’s main campus in Orlando, the steeper the drop-off in UCF license plates. In fact, in Pensacola, they make up a little more than 1% of the college plates we studied. 

What’s truly interesting to me about Central Florida, though, is that it has managed to do something that the other Florida universities founded in the 1960s haven’t been able to do: They’ve broken into the mainstream and earned popular support. The other schools, FIU, FAU, West Florida, North Florida, South Florida, and FGCU are relatively anonymous on the Florida college sports landscape. UCF, though, has managed to make noise on the football field – and translate that into popular support. 

Other License Plates.

There are other data sets that we can pull from these license plates and maps. What would you like to see? So far, we think a good follow-on would be the other pro sports plates for the State, as well as the military plates.

Let us know what you want to see!

2 Responses

  1. Definitely would be interested in seeing the non-P5 Florida colleges compared to UF FSU Miami and UCF. Would be interested to see how much USF has carved out in Tampa, if FAU and FIU have carved out anything, and how much support the HBCUs have in the state.

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